West Virginia sophomore forward Sagaba Konate has a very important decision looming: does he stay in college or go pro?
When he announced his intention earlier this month to enter the NBA Draft and submit the paperwork to go through the process, myself --- along with many others --- expected it to be a formality. We expected Konate to do what Jevon Carter did last year, which was test the process, workout with a few teams, hear back from scouts and then come back to college and improve his stock for next year.
That process certainly paid huge dividends for Carter. He became an All-American selection at point guard, won his second straight National Defensive Player of the Year Award, went to the Sweet 16 for the third time in his career and is now projected as a second round NBA Draft pick.
What Carter did is what was anticipated for Konate. But now the rumors are swirling, and there is a bigger chance he decides to forgo his college eligibility now and pursue his NBA dreams.
“The wind is starting to come up here and now is getting a sense that it perhaps is not as much of a foregone conclusion that it’s simply an evaluation, but there might be some serious consideration that he could be leaving,” said WVU play-by-play broadcaster Tony Caridi when he talked to Hoppy Kercheval on MetroNews this month. “That is the piece of news right now that it seems to be at least in play that he could go.”
Konate’s professional potential is there. The improvements he made from year 1 to year 2 in college showed that he has what it takes to make it at the next level.
He increased his scoring totals from 4.1 points per game to 10.8 points per game from his freshman to sophomore campaigns, along with massive jumps in rebounding (2.8 to 7.6 per game) and blocks (1.4 to 3.2 per game).
All of that showed that Konate is developing into something special at the college level. He is rapidly inching his way up the WVU record books for blocked shots and was named a Defensive All-American not too long ago.
But, as of right now, he is not slated to even hear his name called in the NBA Draft on June 21. No major media outlets have him being selected in their Mock Drafts, meaning his chances of making the NBA are even slimmer if he does choose to sign with an agent and turn pro this summer.
Of course, there are some exceptions that have found success that way. Look at former Marshall center Hassan Whiteside, who fought his way through the G League and overseas before now becoming a defensive specimen in the NBA and signing a 4-year deal that averages over $24 million per season. You can also look at point guard Quinn Cook, who after going undrafted in 2015 out of Duke, played in the G League, got called up to the Golden State Warriors’ roster after Stephen Curry’s injury and is now playing valuable playoff minutes for the defending NBA champions.
Those are rare cases, though, and another year at WVU could tremendously benefit Konate.
He is athletically gifted. What he has done at WVU for two years is incredible. What is even more incredible is that he has only played organized basketball for four years. Imagine if he would have played for longer than that. Would he even be at WVU right now? Would he instead of played at like a program like Kentucky after being a four-to-five star recruit and become a one-and-done.
But there is much more work to be done. And if he stays, he will almost definitely see the results, just like Carter is about to see when he likely hears his name called in this year’s NBA Draft.
He is still very raw. He has only played basketball for four years. His offensive game has seen huge improvements, but he could use a little more consistency on his mid-range jumper. He could also use another year of learning under 800-plus win head coach Bob Huggins.
Last year, Konate was still learning much about the game of basketball, and Caridi pointed to one very specific example.
“A year ago (former WVU forward) Nate Adrian would have to go point on the floor where he needed to go,” Caridi said. “No one is going to be pointing on the floor in the NBA for you. They will say, ‘guess what? You don’t get it. Go away. Go to the G League.’”
If Konate decides to go pro, does not get drafted and does not make it onto an NBA roster, he will probably find his way in the NBA G League, formerly known as the NBA Development League.
The benefits are not anywhere near the same in the G League, and Konate would likely be better off sticking around at WVU for another season. The G League salary is increasing to $35,000 for the 2018-19 campaign, which is a marketable rise from the zero dollars Konate would make playing college ball.
However, the exposure is not the same, as only 41 G League games were televised on ESPN and NBA TV last season. There are college basketball games broadcasted all day on Saturday and every weeknight on ESPN and other national news outlets.
Not only that, but G League teams fly commercially. WVU flies charter to away games. The G League Playoffs do not compare anywhere close to the NCAA Tournament in terms of television exposure either.
G League teams do provide housing, health insurance and per diems for road games. They and the NBA also partnered with Arizona State to help G League players take online classes, which Konate could do if he forgoes his final two years and could not get his degree at WVU right now.
Is that worth it, though? Konate has every right to go if he so chooses. If he decides it is in his best interest, then he should go. Maybe he needs to provide for his family and make money. Who could blame him for that?
If the NBA does not work out, he could always find a successful career overseas. Or maybe he earns his way up the ladder like Whiteside and Cook did.
If Konate stays and makes anywhere near the improvements from year No. 2 to year No. 3 like he did from year No. 1 to year No. 2, then his name will almost definitely be called in the 2019 NBA Draft. ESPN projects him as a second round pick. NBADraft.net has him going No. 14 overall in the first round in 2019.
Another year would assuredly boost his NBA aspirations, yet the decision is all his. He has a lot of options to weigh and still has until May 30 to choose whether he will sign with an agent and go pro or return for his junior season at West Virginia.